I’ve never had a good memory. I’m not great with names at parties. I frequently forget items on my mental shopping list when I go to buy groceries. I’m forever trying to remember where I left my sunglasses, before realizing they’re perched on top of my head.
It’s not a product of aging – I’ve always had a hard time remembering stuff. My husband and daughter get frustrated when they have to remind me about past conversations.
“Dad,” Riley said to me the other day, “Did you sign that form?”
“Honey, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I gave you the form last week, and I told you I had to give it back in by today so that I can go with my class to the Getty.”
I looked around my desk area, under piles of miscellaneous clutter. “Are you sure you gave it to me?”
“Are. You. KIDDING ME?? We had a whole conversation!”
Sure, it doesn’t matter that my frustrated daughter is the same kid whom I have to ask five times to wash the dishes, clean her room, or do anything related to cleaning, the same one who claims absolute amnesia when I say “I told you yesterday to write your grandparents a thank you note!”
Irrelevant. In our house, I’m the guy who doesn’t have his shit together, the one who gets more reminders than he should need, who is constantly a few steps behind the rest of the world, asking his daughter when Parent-Teacher Night is, or asking his spouse, “Wait – that dinner with your boss is tonight?”
That’s me during most of the time, throughout most of the year. With one exception.
September is my daughter’s birthday month. (This year, she turns 15. Zoinks.) And every September, my memory skills become very sharp.
My daughter has no idea. She probably wouldn’t even believe me if I tried to describe it to her.
Any parent knows this feeling: every year when your kid has another birthday, you look at her, at who she is, who she is becoming … and you think about what life was like when she was brand new.
I may not remember whether I bought half-and-half at the store yesterday, but I remember everything about the first few months of my daughter’s life.
I remember that the two weeks prior to her birth, the entire nation was reeling from the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I was walking around wondering how I could possibly raise a child in a world where something so horrific could happen, so close.
I remember how 9/11 faded as soon as she was born. I went from watching and rewatching footage of the smoking, crumbling skyscrapers to becoming extraordinarily focused on learning how to diaper my kid’s butt without letting anything leak out the sides.
I remember being awake at night with her during those first months, curled up on the couch with her for late-night feedings. I remember the milky, vaguely sweet smell of formula. I remember being absolutely sure that I would never be allowed to sleep more than two hours at a time again, for the rest of my life.
I remember that, to pass time during those late nights, I’d put in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD and watch episodes on mute while Riley dozed in my arms. I also remember sometimes choosing not to press play, and simply letting the quiet blanket of night wrap us both up, the rhythm of her breathing being all I needed.
I remember drinking two pots of coffee and a Red Bull every morning during the first six months of her life to make sure I could stay awake at work after a night of no sleep.
I remember the music that served as my soundtrack that first autumn, an oddly random mix: My Chemical Romance, Maroon 5, Elvis Costello, Roxy Music and the new Depeche Mode that had just come out. One extraordinary CD still stands out to me: the artist was Poe, and her album was called Haunted. It was a pop/rock concept album about her relationship with her father before and after he passed away. I did not know this was the theme when I first listened to it. Not really the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re already stressing about being a good dad for your newborn kid. I listened to it over and over and over, possibly to freak myself out on purpose.
I took books on our long stroller walks, books by less-than-famous, wonderfully trippy writers: I was rereading some favorites, short story writers, magical realism, trippy stuff. Kevin Brockmeier. Aimee Bender. Jincy Willet. George Saunders. T.C. Boyle. I would balance a book on the stroller canopy when I would go with Riley for our marathon midday stroller treks through Balboa Park in San Diego. We would hit the road around 10:30 a.m., make our way past the zoo, past the park fountains, cruise through the arboretum, cross the beautiful bridge over the 163 freeway that goes downtown, and we’d spread out a blanket in a certain quiet grassy area on the other side to hang out for a while, find our toes, chew on grass and bugs, and then head back home … just in time for one or both of us to go down for the afternoon nap.
I remember Baby Einstein videos being on constant replay in the afternoon, after naptime was over. I remember thinking that maybe all those parenting articles were right: if I play Mozart for Riley, maybe it will make her a math genius. (Spoiler: not so much.)
I remember the soft spongy blocks we played with. They had farm animals on each side.
I remember putting her in this bouncy/swingy baby seat thing that hung in a doorway, and worrying that she’d bounce so hard she’d actually spring up and bonk her head on the top of the doorframe.
I remember solving the puzzle of How to Do Laundry With a Baby in a Bjorn Without Bending Over and Letting Her Fall Out. (It took some trial and error.)
I remember exactly what we were doing the first time she laughed. We were playing Grab Daddy’s Eyebrows And See What Face He Makes. I remember the delight in her eyes.
I remember Mr. Froggy, Mr. Turtle, Mr. Pony, Mr. Unicorn and Mr. Crinkly Crab. (Yes, I know it’s ludicrously sexist that I made all of her stuffed animals male, and with boring names. It wasn’t intentional. I was just super tired.)
I remember the time she was so squirmy while I was changing her diaper that I swear she was trying to fall off the changing table. She came very close to succeeding, several times.
I remember the tiny socks with butterflies on them. And the overalls, and the bow fixed to her wispy hair, and the post-bath towel that had a hood with baby bear ears on it.
I remember the first time she was in her crib crying and stopped when she saw me, because she recognized me as the guy who can make things better.
This is why I don’t mind when my family teases me about forgetting things. I remember what’s important. Particularly this time of year.
I really should write some of that stuff down, though. Just in case.